Like all residents of the Gulf coast, organizers of gay Memorial Day Weekend events in Pensacola, Fla., are nervously watching news about the BP oil spill.
The spill, caused by an oil rig explosion April 20, is an environmental disaster that could significantly impact wildlife, beaches, fishing and tourism throughout the Gulf Coast. The spill could reach Florida by Thursday, the Pensacola News-Journal reported today.
Pensacola’s beaches have been a highly popular Memorial Day Weekend destination for gay and lesbian travelers for decades. The so-called “Redneck Riviera” rolls out the rainbow carpet each May, when tens of thousands of gay tourists turn out to pack the shores during the days, then enjoy a variety of nightlife events hosted by local restaurants, bars and party promoters.
Emerald City, a gay bar in Pensacola, hosts a full slate of events throughout Memorial Day Weekend. General Manager Ted McCrary said planning for events continues, but warily.
The oil spill “is the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” McCrary said. “We are very worried and have had some people calling in.”
McCrary noted that many hotels allow visitors to cancel with only 48-72 hours notice, so with Memorial Day Weekend still more than three weeks away, those travelers can wait to see what happens with the oil spill. Those who are renting condominiums have been more concerned.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed, but we don’t know what to expect and it could have a serious impact on Memorial Day,” he said. “White sand with oil on it is certainly not what we would hope for, because this is first and foremost a beach event.”
McCrary estimated that of the huge crowds of lesbian and gay visitors who pack Pensacola for Memorial Day, only 10 to 15 percent turn out for the nightlife events. Far more spend their days on the beach, then visit the local restaurants and hang out with friends.
“We’ll have a better idea at the end of this week, and next week, of what we are looking at,” he said. “We are really concerned.”
My Sister’s Room, a popular lesbian bar in Atlanta, is hosting a series of events dubbed “Sexacola” in Pensacola over Memorial Day Weekend.
Patryce Yeiser, co-owner of My Sisters’ Room with Susan Musselwhite, said “people keep asking” about the oil spill, but events will continue regardless of what happens with the spill.
“People have already made reservations, and we will all still go and the parties will still go on,” she said. “It may just be that some of the daytime beach activities all just go to the sound side instead of the beach side.”
Yeiser encouraged lesbian and gay travelers to visit Pensacola over Memorial Day Weekend as a way to help local businesses, which could be hard hit from both the oil spill and the potential loss of a huge tourist weekend.
“We’re hoping to give the economy a boost down there,” she said. “They’re going to need it.”
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist visited Pensacola’s Escambia County Emergency Operations Center today to discuss the oil spill, according to the Pensacola News-Journal.
More than 500 people in the county have been trained to volunteer on oil cleanup, the News-Journal reported.